After brilliant ALCS, Rangers' bullpen implodes

After brilliant ALCS, Rangers' bullpen implodes

ST. LOUIS -- It was the bullpen Rangers general manager Jon Daniels put a particular emphasis on during the stretch run of the regular season. And through the first two rounds of the playoffs -- especially in an American League Championship Series dominated by Texas relievers -- Daniels watched as the fruits of his labor helped get his club to the World Series for a second straight year.

Then, when the stage was greatest, the ramifications were highest and the season got longest, Daniels watched in agony as that once-vaunted relief corps went flat.

"It literally changed from one week to the next," Daniels said in a desolate visiting clubhouse at an otherwise-raucous Busch Stadium, after his club's season-ending 6-2 defeat on Friday night. "The bullpen won the ALCS when our starters struggled. And [the relievers] struggled here. It's just one of those things. I'm not sure you can really put your finger on it."

Maybe it was their overuse in the previous round, maybe it was nerves, or maybe it was just bad timing that the relievers went from great to bad while the Rangers lost the World Series in seven games to the upstart Cardinals.

Whatever it was, Texas' bullpen went from putting up a 1.32 ERA while pitching in 49 percent of the innings in the ALCS, to putting up a 7.43 ERA in a crushing Fall Classic.

Leaky 'pen
After being nearly lights-out in the ALCS, the Rangers' bullpen struggled vs. the Cardinals.
Round W L ERA AVG.
ALCS 4 0 1.32 .161
WS 2 1 7.43 .311

Among clubs that got at least 10 innings from their bullpen -- and the Rangers got 23 -- that's the ninth-highest ERA in World Series history.

"We just didn't get the job done," said veteran southpaw Darren Oliver, who played a big role in the Cardinals' Game 6 comeback by allowing back-to-back leadoff singles to fellow lefties Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay in the 10th.

"We got beat in this Series here," added fellow reliever Scott Feldman. "All we really can control is being prepared and going out there, and putting ourselves in position to succeed by all the work we do in between. I think everybody goes out there with the attitude of wanting to succeed. It doesn't always work, but it's not by a lack of effort or a lack of commitment."

Perhaps it was by too much work.

The Rangers' bullpen ranked 23rd in innings during a regular season that saw Texas get some unexpected length from its starting rotation. But the relief corps had to account for 27 1/3 innings of 56 innings in an ALCS that saw just one starter hurl six full innings.

In the World Series, the Rangers' 'pen was tagged for 28 hits, walked 20 and struck out 21 while giving up 19 runs in 23 frames.

Were the relievers just tired?

"You never know, man," recently acquired setup man Mike Adams said. "I don't know if you can necessarily say that's why we weren't as effective as we were last series. We had a good run. This series, we just didn't pitch as well as we did last series, and that kind of hurt us."

Closer Neftali Feliz himself put up a 1.90 ERA and converted 11 of his 12 save chances in the last two months of the regular season, then gave up just one run in 7 2/3 innings while going 4-for-4 in saves in the first two playoff rounds. In Game 6 of the World Series, he couldn't preserve a two-run, ninth-inning lead in an eventually crippling loss.

Feliz's close friend, Alexi Ogando, went from having a great regular season in his first year as starter to being an absolute force while transitioning to the bullpen for the start of the postseason, giving up one run, striking out 12 and walking just two in 10 1/3 innings through the first two rounds.

But as Ogando continued to reach uncharted territory in innings, his once-electric right arm seemingly got more gassed. Ogando wound up throwing 182 innings in the regular season and postseason this year -- nearly 110 more than his previous career high -- and while giving up three earned runs, seven hits and seven walks in 2 2/3 innings in this World Series, it showed.

"Alexi, he had a great year and he was a big help in the bullpen," Feliz said in Spanish. "It was a good decision by [manager Ron Washington] to put him in the bullpen, and he helped us. I know that every game he tried to give his best. It didn't turn out the way he wanted it to, but we know he left his heart out there and did all he could."

But in the end, the same bullpen Daniels addressed heavily down the stretch -- by trading for Koji Uehara and Adams before the non-waiver Trade Deadline, then picking up Michael Gonzalez through waivers in August -- came up short at the very end.

Like in Game 1 of the World Series, when Ogando surrendered the go-ahead run to Allen Craig in the sixth.

Or Game 3, when five relievers combined to give up 10 runs in a 16-7 blowout.

Or Game 6, when Feliz blew the save in the ninth, Oliver and Feldman combined to give up another lead in the 10th and Mark Lowe served up a David Freese walk-off homer in the 11th.

Or in the Game 7 finale, when Feldman and Adams combined to give up three runs on four walks.

The bullpen was arguably the biggest reason the Rangers returned to the championship round. Then it was probably the biggest reason they once again couldn't finish things off.

"I am not going to point fingers at anything, I'm not going to point fingers at anybody; I'm just going to say that we fell short as a team," said starter C.J. Wilson, who came out of the bullpen in the fifth on Friday and immediately plunked Rafael Furcal, leading to another run. "It wasn't one component of the team. It was every component of the team."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, listen to his podcast and follow him on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.